**This P&P200 vignette is the seventh I have written for the weeks leading up to the double wedding event on Nov. 16. First was Darcy Surprises Elizabeth on 10/29, then A Most Important Dinner at Darcy House on 11/1, An Enlightening Tour of Darcy House on 11/2, Mr. Darcy Goes Shopping on 11/3, After Church Picnic & Surprise on 11/4, and Georgiana Hosts a Tea Party on 11/5. Read those first! All are inspired by the Darcy Saga, and may even contain small portions of “flashback” moments I wrote within my sequel. However, all of them are altered a tad to present a differing POV and most contain additional information I never wrote before. So they are new material to be enjoyed as part of the awesome Austen Authors P&P200 extravaganza! Thanks for reading, Sharon Lathan
York’s Coffee House located across from Green Park on Piccadilly Street was a favorite place for Darcy and his cousin Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam to meet. The address was a rough halfway point between Grosvenor Square and the townhouse of Lord Matlock on St. James’s Square, but easy access was not the only reason the two men had chosen York’s years ago. For one, the coffee was excellent. All the beverages were, in fact, as was the food. Many coffee houses in London could boast the same, so even this was not the primary reason. It came down to atmosphere more than anything. Urbane and elegant it was, yet with an air of casual comfort not felt in a pretentious gentlemen’s club, such as White’s, where both Darcy and Richard were members. York’s spanned the entire ground level and two-thirds of the first level, and unlike the majority of coffee houses, did not cram seating places into every last available inch of space. Instead there was ample room for the tables and booths, with none too close together. The black brick building sat on the corner, the windows on both outer walls providing adequate lighting during the day and a nice view of Green Park. If privacy was desired, that could be arranged – for a price – in the upper room where thick walls separated the booths.
All in all it was the perfect place to relax, drink, and converse freely without fear of eavesdropping or having one’s behavior censured.
Richard’s note was typical of his cousin. York’s. 1pm. Usual table. I have news.
It didn’t leave room for speculation, or for refusal since he had no idea where Colonel Fitzwilliam presently was! Darcy never left the house without his butler, and steward if at Pemberley, knowing his planned agenda. It was a habit, born out of no single situation, and infrequently put to the test since emergencies or vital messages were rare. If Richard had not specifically said to deliver the message immediately, Mr. Travers would have sat it on Darcy’s desk. As it was, a footman brought it to Darcy at his tailor’s, where he was in the middle of a final fitting for his wedding garments.
Odd, but knowing Richard’s penchant for mischief and rattling his serious cousin, Darcy didn’t anticipate the “news” being anything of significance. Probably just a way to make Darcy spend a lazy afternoon so that the on-holiday colonel wouldn’t feel guilty for doing nothing all day, was Darcy’s opinion. Nevertheless, his interest was piqued and, he admitted, hot coffee, friendly male conversation, and lounging sounded appealing.
So he crossed the threshold of York’s with a smile on his face, heading directly up the stairs to the booth next to a south-facing window where Richard was already sitting, coffee in hand.
“Scoot over, and remove your dusty boots from my bench.”
“I’ll scoot,” Richard drawled, “but I am terribly comfortable stretched out, so you will have to suffer the boots. I wiped the muck off and a little dust won’t kill you.”
“If it does, I will return to haunt you.” Darcy sat across and motioned to a passing waiter. Once his order was placed, he bobbed his chin Richard’s direction. “No uniform today. Did they finally catch on and toss you out of the army?”
“I’m incognito. Actually, I am a notorious spy blending in with the common folk for an ultra-secret mission for the Crown. Quite heroic and dangerous. Are you impressed?”
“Exorbitantly. I always suspected York’s a hideout knee-deep in traitors of the King.”
“The world is a strange place, Darcy.”
“Hmmm. So, is this drivel practice for captivating women? Or is your ‘news’ that you are fully delusional?”
“Neither, although the women angle isn’t a bad idea. Thanks, Cousin!”
Darcy laughed and shook his head. The waiter brought his coffee, Richard silently grinning while Darcy prepared the hot beverage to his taste. Once the first gulp was swallowed, the grin faded and the colonel got serious.
“I do have news. Good and bad. What do you want first?”
“I prefer to forego the bad news altogether, thank you very much. I am to be married in less than two weeks to the most marvelous woman in all of England, if not the world, and have discovered I enjoy being giddy with happiness. It is a refreshing change.”
“If I wasn’t truly delighted for you and Miss Bennet, I would jump on that ‘giddy’ comment with glee. I shall resist and save the taunting for later. At the present, I believe your positive attitude will serve in this situation. Here it is: Father and Mother are in Town.”
“Is that the bad news? I wrote to Lord Matlock not long after Elizabeth accepted my proposal, and I was honest as to her family, station in Society, and modest dowry. I also was abundantly clear that I love her. I wish I could say he was completely understanding and approving, but compared to Lady Catherine’s… vociferous disapproval,” he growled, face dark with the anger simmering under the surface, “Uncle’s reservations were mild.”
“Yes, Father told me that. What you don’t know, William, is that while you have been blissfully living in giddy happiness, our dear, sweet Aunt Catherine has been busy.”
Darcy looked genuinely startled. “How do you mean?”
“You really need to pay more attention to gossip. I have been back in Town for two days and have gotten an earful, while your head is floating in a cloud. Primarily it is the anticipated chatter heard whenever a rich, handsome, eligible bachelor gets taken off the market. And don’t let the fancy words go to your head; they aren’t mine, God knows.”
Darcy smiled grimly. Richard’s levity was appreciated, but he sensed he wasn’t going to like the rest.
“The talk is juicier, of course,” Richard continued, “due to the fact that no one has ever heard of Elizabeth Bennet. Speculation is rife, and that is to be expected, but it was when I detected certain ‘facts’ added on that I grew suspicious.”
“I don’t care for the sound of this at all. Explain what you mean by ‘facts’?”
Richard shrugged, although his face was nearly as tense as Darcy’s. “Details about her appearance, where she lives, her family – that sort of thing. Details that would be difficult to discover unless one searched for them, but even if one did, facts like that are emotionless. I have actually done some spying and collecting of intelligence in my time, so I know.” He paused, removing his feet from the bench and leaning forward. “Cousin, some of what I heard was, for lack of a better term, vicious.”
Darcy listened as Richard imparted a sampling of the rumors disseminating through the ton. The scandal of Lydia, the crassness of the Bennet parents, Elizabeth’s lack of proper connections or money or education, that the Bennet girls used unsavory arts to ensnare the first two wealthy men to ever appear in Meryton, the degradation of close relatives in trade, and so on. Kernels within were truth, although exaggerated and painted bleakly, but most were blatant lies or information no one should know. It was the latter that hit Richard.
“At first,” he said, “I suspected Caroline Bingley as the source, and I do think to a degree this may be true. But she has been in Hertfordshire for the most part, and now off in Bath, and despite her general nastiness, she isn’t vindictive, nor overly creative. It was the story of Lydia Bennet, and your involvement, that captured my attention. Assuming, as I did at first, that it was fabricated, it didn’t fit with coming from Miss Bingley. I asked a few careful questions – in my capacity as a spy, you see – and it didn’t take long to uncover that it was not only based on truth, how much I do not know nor do you have to enlighten me, but also that the story came directly from Lady Catherine.”
Darcy’s countenance and entire body exuded cold fury. Anyone other than Richard would have stuttered to a halt in terror. Even he, oldest friend and closer than a brother, hesitated to continue. But Darcy deserved to be aware, and prepared.
“Even then I might have denied it, William. I am no more fond of our aunt then you are, but I would not have believed her capable of this, for no other reason then to preserve family honor and reputation. Then I met with my parents this morning.” He took a sip of cold coffee, grimaced, and waved for a fresh pot.
“I might need something stronger then coffee before we are through here. Continue, Richard.”
“In a nutshell, Lady Catherine has been writing to Father. I didn’t see the letters, but based on what he related from them, it matches a lot of what I was hearing bandied about. Needless to say, he is… upset. Now, let me be clear, Cousin. You know your uncle. He is a fair man, and he loves you. Mother too, probably even more, being a woman and your mother’s dear friend. Additionally, Father isn’t an innocent regarding his sister. Because of Anne he knows Aunt C has a very good reason to want your relationship with Miss Bennet to end. That is the point of it all, in case you didn’t figure that out yourself. Shame you amongst your peers, and pressure you via Lord Matlock to come to your senses and break the engagement. Of course, if she had ever bothered to really know you she wouldn’t have wasted her time. Oh don’t glare at me! You know very well you are the most stubborn man on the planet. Once you make a decision, it takes a visitation from God to change your mind. Catherine, no matter what she may think, isn’t God.”
He was pleased to hear a short laugh pass Darcy’s lips. “So all that was the bad news. Yes, Father wants to talk with you, and meet the mystery woman causing all the uproar. The summons… I mean, invitation,” — Darcy again laughed — “to dinner tomorrow night is probably already on your desk. But remember, William, that while Father can be stern and take the whole “I am an earl” stuff quite seriously, he does know you, very well, and he truly does love you. James was his dearest friend, and he would never impose his will over that reality. Personally I am of the opinion he would have been far more upset if you had succumbed to Catherine’s demands about Anne. No offense, as I love Anne as much as you, but the two of you together would be a disaster. Family inheritances are important to him, but not at the expense of your happiness. Mother is even worse when it comes to sentimental, romantic rot.” He shuddered dramatically.
Darcy had relaxed, somewhat, and refreshed his cold coffee. “Once they meet Elizabeth, their concerns will be gone.”
“That is what I told him! You can thank me later, maybe let me win at billiards just once or buy me something special,” Richard grinned, “but I sang Miss Bennet’s praises. Not that it isn’t easy to do. She is a good match for you, William. I suspected it at Rosings this past spring. I am very happy for you, truly I am. I am confident my parents will agree.”
They sipped in silence for a time. Darcy stared into his cup, absorbing all that Richard had revealed. Finally he glanced upward. “So, tomorrow night for dinner. I think that can be arranged.”
“Excellent! Oh, and I’ll be there too, so can guarantee the evening will be entertaining!”
**Come back tomorrow for Dinner with the Matlocks!